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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg - FS1 prelims preview

Get the lowdown on the televised prelims of UFC 215, featuring a contest between former title challengers Henry Cejudo and Wilson Reis as well as Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-McMann vs Mazany Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

For all of the complaints that have been stated about how UFC 215 isn’t going to sell – and there may be some truth to that – no one can deny that the televised preliminaries have some intriguing contests. One fight could produce the next championship contender for women’s bantamweight, another features a pair of recent title challengers facing off. The other bout worth paying attention to contains a youngster whom many believe is the next big thing to come from Canada.

The televised prelims begin on FS1 at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on Saturday.

Sara McMann (11-3) vs. Ketlen Vieira (8-0), Women’s Bantamweight

The retirement of Miesha Tate and the continued hiatus of Ronda Rousey has depleted the depth at the top of the women’s bantamweight division, opening up an opportunity for McMann to get another shot at the title. That may sound asinine to those who remember McMann dropping three of four not that long ago, but it’s a very high possibility… provided she gets past Vieira of course.

Vieira isn’t the cakewalk that many uneducated fans probably think she is. The 26-year old Brazilian is in the same neighborhood of McMann in terms of physical gifts, she’s just not as experienced nor has she been able to put those gifts together… yet. She began showing signs of a developing boxing game in her last outing against Ashlee Evans-Smith, putting together simple boxing combinations and slick counter uppercuts. Vieira isn’t a horrible wrestler either, using that skill almost exclusively in her UFC debut when her striking was still wooden.

The more important question is whether Vieira’s wrestling is on par with McMann. It doesn’t take much digging to discover the answer is an emphatic no as McMann is a former Olympic silver medalist wrestler. McMann initially struggled to convert her abilities into MMA-style wrestling, but that has changed. She not only has been able to get the fight to the ground whenever she wants, she’s also developed a brutally powerful submission game on the ground, securing triangle-arm chokes in consecutive fights. Her striking is still rudimentary, but she does have a lot of power and is very strong in the clinch. Basically, she knows her limitations standing and doesn’t overextend herself.

It’s obvious that Vieira’s best chance for success is to keep the fight standing. McMann has struggled to develop a consistent standup game whereas Vieira showed rapid progress over the course of two UFC contests. Then again, McMann has been able to get the fight to the ground whenever she wants. Vieira has enough BJJ chops that McMann should struggle to sink in a submission like she has the last couple of times and should be able to survive until the time limit, but a win? Unlikely. McMann via decision

Henry Cejudo (10-2) vs. Wilson Reis (22-7), Flyweight

Cejudo and Reis have both had their shots at Demetrious Johnson’s belt only to come up short in spectacular fashion. Now they face the overwhelming challenge of working their way back to that opportunity. Given his youth and greater marketability, Cejudo stands a much better chance of working his way back to the top than the far more experienced Reis.

Reis was at the top of his game going into his contest with Mighty Mouse, but the utter humiliation suffered at the hands of the dominant champion leaves many wondering whether he’ll be the same fighter he previously was. Given his extensive experience, the smart money is to bet on Reis recovering. One of the top BJJ practitioners in the sport much less the division, he’s developed a physical wrestling game in which he aggressively chains his attempts together to compliment his positional grappling. Reis’ striking is functional, but a lot of his success in that area is due to the respect opponents give to his wrestling and grappling. Nonetheless, he has a bit of power and occasionally strings together sound punching combinations, but usually throws single punches or low kicks.

Cejudo is a more dynamic fighter, thanks in large part to his incredible athleticism. An Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, Cejudo isn’t the wrestle-first combatant that you’d think he was given his background. He’s turned himself into a dangerous combination puncher, perhaps even the best pure boxer in the division. He does tend to eat a good amount damage in return, which isn’t all in account to poor defense as his fast-paced style tends to lead to plenty of return fire.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Cejudo is that he still has his wrestling to fall back upon should he choose. Sure, his takedown percentage is relatively poor – 31% according to Fight Metric – but he showed in the brief amount of time he was in the cage with Johnson that he can get anyone to the ground when he really wants. It’s worth noting that Reis was incapable of getting Johnson to the ground in six recorded takedown attempts.

Cejudo’s only losses have come to the king and crown prince of the division in Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. It’s been debated whether he really lost to Benavidez and it isn’t like any of his victories were close contests. For all of Reis’ experience and grappling prowess – the two areas in which he has a definitive advantage on Cejudo – I don’t think he has the physical skills to overcome Cejudo’s natural gifts. The bigger question is whether Cejudo can pick up his first finish in the UFC. Given Reis’ history of durability, my guess is no. Cejudo via decision

Sarah Moras (4-2) vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-2), Women’s Bantamweight

Perhaps the least intriguing contest on the card, Moras hasn’t fought in over two years. Never a very active fighter to begin with, many have forgotten that she was even on the roster. It’s obvious she’ll never be a contender, but she can still be a capable lower-level gatekeeper… provided she can get past Evans-Smith.

Moras is primarily a wrestler… not a good thing considering she has been unable to get her opponents where she wants them. If she can get the fight on the ground in an advantageous position, she is top heavy with good ground strikes and underrated guard passing. She has the makings of a solid standup fighter too, flashing good boxing combinations and decent power, but not consistently. If nothing else, Moras is a tough, durable action-fighter.

The best way to sum up Evans-Smith is to proclaim her a more efficient version of Moras. She’s a little bit bigger. A little bit better in the wrestling. She’s a bit more consistent on her feet too. While Evans-Smith is better at everything, if is by just a bit. What is most notable about Evans-Smith is the consistent proof of striking improvement fight-to-fight in recent contests. If Evans-Smith continues to progress in her striking, it’ll be hard for Moras to upend her.

This is a difficult contest to predict due to Moras long absence. What has she been doing in the interim? Has she progressed as a fighter? Hell, she could have even regressed. If Moras is the same fighter that we saw two years ago, expect Evans-Smith to emerge victorious, but not without a fight from the Canadian. Evans-Smith via decision

Gavin Tucker (10-0) vs. Rick Glenn (19-4-1), Featherweight

When Tucker was making his UFC debut seven months ago, he was about as much of an unknown fighter as you’ll find for someone entering the world’s premier MMA organization. By the end of the evening, Tucker was being mentioned as Canada’s next star. Perhaps the “star” talk could be considered premature, but there is no doubt Tucker has that ability in him. Showing a knowledge of angles and distance few expected him to possess coming from a small camp, Tucker picked apart the veteran Sam Sicilia while avoiding any significant damage in return.

Glenn presents a different kind of challenge than Sicilia. Whereas Sicilia was a stocky power-puncher with a limited arsenal, Glenn is extremely well-rounded and lanky, possessing a four-inch reach advantage on Tucker. Even worse for the Canadian, Glenn knows how to use his reach to good effect. However, Glenn is also all offense all the time, walking down his opponent with little regard for his own health, eating huge amounts of damage. Fortunately, he’s amongst the most durable fighters in the sport, never having been KO’d at any point in his career. He isn’t a powerhouse himself, but he packs enough of a punch that his power can’t be ignored.

A very evenly-matched contest, there are a couple of factors pushing me in the direction of Tucker. Firstly, Glenn tends to start fights slowly, regularly dropping the first round. He can’t be doing that in the UFC, especially against someone like Tucker who has just as much stamina as Glenn and expect to win regularly. Second, Glenn was unable to secure a single takedown against Phillipe Nover, a notoriously poor wrestler, in his last outing. If he can’t get his wrestling going against Tucker, I struggle to see the American pulling this one off. Regardless, this should be a sleeper for FOTN. Tucker via decision

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